Students Organizing for Sustainability - what's it all about?

Posted by Michael / on 04/15/2015 / 0 Comments










"We, the youth of the world, commit to taking responsibility for empowering and mobilizing young people. We are dedicated to using this collective driving force to maximize positive impact on our society and environment. With this role as change makers, we are ready to do our part in transforming today's world for a more sustainable future"


Youth statement, UNESCO Decade of Education for Sustainable Development conference in Nagoya, Japan, November 2015



•1.   What is SOS?


SOS is an international alliance of student organizations and initiatives that collaborate to progress their work on social responsibility and environmental sustainability. It will create a global movement of student leaders collaborating for sustainability. SOS is being established now, to be publically launched on 09 October 2015.


•2.   Why is now the time for SOS?


Arguably the world is becoming less sustainable, not more. Leaders have consistently prioritised short-term interests and unsustainable growth over long-term environmental sustainability and social prosperity. In the developed world, our grandparent's generation burnt more fossil fuels than the whole of humanity before it, but it is young people around the world that will inherit the budget deficits and devastating impacts of climate change. Despite the challenges, student organizations across the world are at the forefront of local and national sustainability campaigning, influencing and action. They demonstrate that young people and students want a more sustainable future, want to learn about sustainability, and want to be the change.


Young people have a huge potential - we live in a youthful world, with young people making up nearly 40 percent of the world's population [1] , [2] . The number of young people accessing tertiary education increases every year. Today there are between 13,000 and 16,000 universities globally, comprising 135 million students, a number that is set to double by 2025, with the growth mostly in the global south. Although less than 3% of the world's population currently go to university, 80% of leaders have been to university [3] . Yet despite the potential for change, the aspirations of young people and students to act as change agents for positive causes remains unfulfilled.


Despite their best efforts, student organizations tend to collaborate and cooperate nationally, or within their continents, rather than internationally, or inter-continentally. This means there is lots of wasted effort tackling the same challenges in different places. It also means that there isn't yet a global student voice on sustainability and students tend not to be heard, or represented, at the international level (e.g. EU, UN).


Generally, schools, colleges, universities and governments have yet to realise their critical role in creating leaders that will prioritise sustainability. Most focus their efforts on conventional inward-looking campus sustainability rather than transformational sustainability - embedding it into teaching and learning across disciplines as well as community outreach. Done well, tertiary education institutions could produce wave after wave of students and graduates that are part of the solution to our global sustainability challenges, not part of the problem.


This is why the time for SOS has been conceived. A global alliance of student organizations inspiring students to advance sustainability, connecting students to collaborate effectively and empowering students to be heard at the global level.


•3.   How will SOS work?


SOS has been created from an ongoing dialogue between student organizations, but is not being led by any one organization. SOS will not be a formal organization, nor a campaign. It will not represent students, nor will it take a view on issues.


Instead, SOS will provide a mechanism for existing student organizations to collaborate on sustainability. It will do this through a password-protected platform comprising a working space and file share, including discussion groups and regional email lists. In the public domain, there will be a map showing where SOS organizations are, a totalizer of our combined reach to students, and a SOS YouTube channel. SOS will be free to join, and student organizations of any size can join - from local campus-based groups, to regional or national organizations, and international federations and confederations. SOS is open to organizations dedicated to sustainability and social responsibility, as well as generic student organizations that have an interest in these issues. The secretariat duties will revolve every year.


As SOS is an alliance, rather than a formal organization, it should be relatively straightforward for student organizations to agree to join. This informal approach means that SOS will not be in a position to partner, or formally engage, with entities like the EU or UN. It will, however, provide a platform through which existing student organizations can work together to ensure greater student representation. Any member of SOS could potentially represent the interests of other members, partially or in totality, so long as they have explicitly gained support for their actions through the platform.


Of the organizations already approached, one has said they want to collaborate on research on student demand for education for sustainable development, several on a unified approach to COP, one on an international day of action on divestment, and one on an international funding bid. SOS will help enable all this, and much more, becoming a great resource that helps the student movement progress our collective work towards a more sustainable future



•4.   How can I join?


To register interest, to join, or for further information, please email .


Alain Tord, ; Felix Spira, ; Jamie Agombar, ; Natasha Mytton-Mills, ; Nickson Otieno, ; Wladyslaw Senn




[1] Aged 25 or under.

[2] Approximately 60% of youth live in Asia; 15%, in Africa; 10%, in Latin America and the Caribbean; and the remaining 15% in developed countries and regions.



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